The first ordained female Christian minister in the Middle East has been denied a short-term visa to the UK, with the British government fearing she may not leave the country at the end of her trip.
Rev Rola Sleiman, 42, was due to attend the annual gathering of the Church of Scotland – the week long General Assembly due to begin on Saturday – according to The Herald.
Syrian-born Sleiman, who now pastors Tripoli Evangelical Church, was refused a visa for her trip with the Home Office telling her in a letter that it was 'not satisfied you intend to leave the UK at the end of your proposed visit'. It had previously called for verification from the Church, which the Church provided. It has now said it does not believe the Church of Scotland is paying for Sleiman's visit.
Very Rev Dr John Chalmers, principal clerk to the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, said the visa refusal was 'disturbing and mystifying'.
He said: 'We have been looking forward to receiving Rev Rola Sleiman as representative of the National Evangelical (Protestant) Church of Syria and Lebanon at the General Assembly.
'She is the first woman to be ordained in the Middle East and became pastor of her own congregation in Lebanon in February this year.
'Her contribution to our discussion on gender justice and on the situation in the Middle East would be of great significance.'
Chalmers said the Church was 'desperately disappointed' by the government's denial and is appealing for a reversal of the decision.
He added: 'Over the years we have invited hundreds of overseas visitors to our General Assembly and this is the first time that our commitment to covering the costs of their stay has ever been questioned.
'We also have a 100 per cent record of our visitors returning to their own country.
'However, time is not on our side and the fact that parliament has been dissolved and MPs are on the campaign trail is making it difficult for us to make headway.
'We remain hopeful that more senior UK government figures will overturn this injustice and allow Ms Sleiman to participate in our General Assembly.'